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A Visit with Ky Michaelson
05-27-08
Biography by Ky Michaelson and Richard Parks,
Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz

Ky 001AAKy Michaelson is affectionately known as the Rocketman, for his use of rocketry in automobiles, motorcycles, space rocketry and other vehicles.  His use of rockets is only one facet of his inventiveness, which never ceases but evolves into new projects.  His website is located at http://www.the-rocketman.com and is filled with activities that he has been involved with.  Ky comes by this talent quite naturally.  “My Grandfather was the Deputy Sheriff and used to chase after bank robbers.  He received a letter from the Minnesota Bankers association, which was pretty funny, which you can read on http://www.the-rocketman.com/thunder_memories.html,” he told me.  His grandfather and granduncles have been inventing things for a long time and many of their creations have been patented.  The Michaelson family could have been the Minnesota Fords of their day in both motorcycles and cars.  Their genius was there, but genius alone does not always guarantee financial success.  Ky's great-grandparents immigrated to America in 1865 and homesteaded in South Dakota.  From there they later moved to Zumbrota, Minnesota, where the family grew to include eight children, one of whom was Anton Michaelson, Ky’s grandfather.  Anton was a watchmaker and jeweler for more than fifty years.  Anton's brothers were John, Joe and Walter and they all were inventors and tinkerers, in that long line of American and European craftsmen that did so much to modernize the world as we know it today.  The brothers collaborated on the Minneapolis and Michaelson Motorcycles in 1908, which they built and sold until 1916.

“Joe Michaelson was in charge of the Michaelson race team.  In a letter he sent the family from a series of races, he said they took 3 firsts, 9 seconds and five thirds.  The only thing that   could beat them was an Indian Motorcycle,” Ky added.  On the website are photographs of the family race team in 1910 at Minnesota State Fair. Ky 002AA Their inventions were numerous and are documented on Ky's website.   “My uncle John drew this a hundred years ago look at it close the technical thought behind it is incredible,” said Ky as he showed me a photo on his website.   Joe Michaelson designed and built a car with an air cooled engine.  John Michaelson was the first stunt man in the Michaelson family.  He earned money for college by working in a thrill show, jumping off a portable ski jump on a bike.  “My Great Uncle John went by the name of ‘The Great Michaels’ and was a forerunner to the motorcycle stunts done by Evel Knievel.  I have a photograph of him taken in 1905,” Ky continued.  Anton's son and Ky's father, Howard Michaelson, was also an inventor and helped to develop the lightning arrestors used on airplanes today and the Borascope, which is used to look inside airplane engines and wings.  “I still have this telescope that my dad made 50 years ago.  He ground the lens by hand,” Ky said.  “My great Uncle, Walter ‘Mike’ Michaelson, was the chief engineer for the Heidbrink Company, which manufactured the oxygen mask during the war.  They sold over a million masks that were used by our military pilots.  I have a photograph of him on his first flight in 1938 when they tested the mask,” Ky told me.

Ky 006AA   Ky was born in Redwing, Minnesota, to Howard and Pearl Michaelson.  He attended Nokomis Junior High School and was very good in his shop classes; earning A's in all of his shop classes, but struggling with D's and F's in his other classes.  This was to set the tone for his life, for he was as inventive and curious about designing and building things as his ancestors were.  At the age of sixteen, Ky dropped out of school.  He suffered from Dyslexia and they just did not know how to deal with dyslexic children back then.  He made up for his lack of grades with a charming personality and an ability to make friends.  He was popular, but recalls that his closest friends were Rich Hollmquist, Darrel Hagman, Chuck Cramer and Dennis Kottke.  They were all interested in cars and explosives and anything with power, typical for boys of that age, with the advent of the space age looming ahead of them.  Ky's home was filled with tools and he was always building something, from electric chairs, diving helmets, radios and many other things.  He received his first chemistry set in 1951 and his interests changed to making black powder, which he used to make firecrackers and bombs.  Then the boys began to build rockets and put them in wooden rocket cars and running them down the alley in the back of his home. 

   Many of the young kids that he hung around with were older than he was, because they had the same interest in racing cars that Ky was developing.  This experience led to his first car, a 1933 Ford 3-window coupe, which he drag raced at Twin City Speedway, in New Brighton, Minnesota.  Ky was one of the founding members of the Gopher State Timing Association (GSTA), which was formed in 1954 and just celebrated their 53rd annual car show.  He is still active in this organization and to the Quads Car Club and to the Wanders Car Club.  "I drag raced motorcycles, Top Gas dragsters and Top Fuel Dragsters from 1956 to 1972, in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Division 5.  I started doing exhibition racing with Rocket Cars from 1972 to 1979.  I am currently building a streamline motorcycle using one of my families 1910 motorcycle engines.  I am planning on taking it to Bonneville and run it there," he told me.  When Ky 007AAKy was 16, he worked as a baker, and then went to work for himself after that.  He has done the prototype, research and development and design work for a number of companies since then.  His list of movie, TV and other credits can be found on his website, including the types of assignments he has been hired to do for others over the years.  "I will always be interested in cars.  I drive a 1930 Chevy roadster in the summer," he added.  “My Rocket cars still hold the record as the fastest cars ever on a NHRA track.  My cars were also the first to run 300 mph and a four (400) run at a NHRA national event.  My cars still hold a number of speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats and El Mirage Dry Lake,” Ky said. 

   “I love Minnesota, but I miss the racing action out in California.  I live in the only Spanish looking house in Minnesota, which I built over a period of years.  It has 8000 square feet of space with a full size swimming pool in my living room and has palm trees inside.  It looks like a museum,” he added.  “My wife's name is Jodi and I have a 10-year old daughter.  She is real special to us as she was born blind and had a number of heart problems.  She is doing well now.  My wife has 8 brothers and when she was pregnant she said if we have a girl it will be a miracle.  So when the baby turned out to be a girl we named her Miracle,” he told me.  Ky has an 8-year old son, who is appropriately named, Buddy Rocketman Michaelson.  Buddy and Ky have plans to keep racing a central point of the Michaelson family heritage.  "I have been building things all my life and I hope to be able to continue doing what I love until the day I leave this earth," Ky concluded.  We all hope that Ky, Buddy and future generations of Michaelson's do just that.

Gone Racin' is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.



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